Friday, May 11, 2007

Kicked Upstairs for "Diversity"

Another hat tip to Michelle Malkin, who was alerted to this "major" corporate announcement. Seems that NBC-Universal is trumpeting their appointment of a Senior Vice-President for Diversity. Paula Madison, who currently serves as Vice President/General Manager of NBC's local stations in Los Angeles has been named to the diversity post; she will be the first executive in the company's history with diversity as her "sole responsibility." The press release contains the usual blather about how the appointment underscores the company's commitment to diversity, yada, yada, yada.

In the wake of the announcement, there was some speculation that Madison's promotion represents a reaction to the Don Imus controversy, and an effort to placate shakedown artists, err, critics like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. But NBC may have more pressing reasons to move Ms. Madison up the corporate ladder; industry website FTV Live (subscription required) speculates that the network simply wants to get Ms. Madison out of KNBC, where her leadership has been less-than-impressive.

Similar thoughts were expressed over at TV Shoptalk, a on-line forum devoted to television news. Here's how a poster called "NewsCenter5" reacted to Madison's promotion.


May 10, 2007 8:48 PM EST

[She] destroys the place then leaves... nice...

hopefully she'll only sharpen pencils in her fancy new office at 30 rock...

Madison's arrival at KNBC in 2002 was also touted by her bosses, who noted that she was the first African-American woman to run a network-owned TV station. However, KNBC has steadily lost viewers during her tenure, and a news operation that challenged KABC for market leadership is now a distant second, and even trails perennial cellar-dweller KCBS in some time slots. News programs have become the most important revenue source for local stations, particularly in large markets like Los Angeles. Eroding audiences for KNBC newscasts have cost NBC-Universal (and parent corporation GE) millions of dollars in lost advertising.

Promoting Ms. Madison--obviously--solves a couple of problems for NBC. It provides a sop for diversity in the wake of the Imus fiasco, and it allows the network to install a new manager in one of its most important, revenue-generating operations. As network audiences continue to decline (putting more pressure on the corporate bottom line), NBC can't afford to have an under-performing TV station in the nation's second-largest market. Ms. Madison's promotion is being hailed as a great leap forward in diversity, but in reality, it's may be an effort to fix some of her management miscues in L.A.


In fairness to Ms. Madison, she was in a tough spot at KNBC. Her arrival coincided with NBC's decline in prime time, which reduced the lead-in audience for the station's all-important 11 p.m. newscast. And, along with other executives, she was given the task of implementing NBCU 2.0, a wave of job and cost-cutting that forced the station to lay off dozens of employees, including some high-priced anchor talent. Meanwhile, KABC padded its lead and KCBS began to make in-roads in the ratings, forcing NBC to make a change at Channel 4.

Also, Ms. Madison's problems in L.A. are not intended as an indictment of female or minority broadcast executives. There are plenty of successful radio and TV managers in those ranks. One of the best station managers in the business is a woman named Emily Barr, who's run ABC's WLS-TV in Chicago for more than a decade. During her tenure, WLS has remained dominant in the Windy City, and made tons of money for Disney, to boot. NBC will need someone with similar skills to turn things around in Los Angeles.


Brian H said...

It's one of the classic solutions to the Peter Principle Problem: what to do with a senior entrenched incompetent? Enter: "the lateral arabesque". Fancy title, few duties or responsibilities that could screw up anything important, and no subordinates with any potential for actual productive work elsewhere in the firm. In the harshest form, position is made progressively less relevant until incomp quits in humiliation.

Unknown said...

Brian--And, in the wake of the Imus fiasco, NBCU couldn't afford to publicly sack it's highest-ranking, African-American female execs. And, you're exactly right; Madison will discover that her new job has diminishing authority, and quietly resign a year or 18 months down the road.